Friday, 20 February 2009

A view from the bottom

An insider's take on spanking, S&M and the new porn law

This is a guest post by Pandora Blake

[Caution: this article contains links to images that some may find offensive, disturbing and NOT SAFE FOR WORK]

"Show me a new medium and I'll guarantee it will attract censorship as soon as it becomes popular (or, in some instances, once it attracts public notice)" says Ramsey Campbell. He's writing in the introduction to Dances with Werewolves, the autobiography of Niki Flynn, an American-born writer, model - and star of "extreme" porn films. Niki is an intelligent, independent, articulate woman who has made a career as a "professional victim". She's also a friend. She has a website, a popular blog, large numbers of fans who appreciate her DVDs, photostories and internet movie clips. I act alongside her in a couple of them.

Niki and I make films in which we are punished, disciplined, abused, tormented, assaulted, abducted, tied up and generally mistreated. We do it because we love it. We don't earn huge amounts of money and no-one has ever made us do anything we didn't want to do - or at least, not more than once. You run into the occasional creep in every industry, but the world of corporal punishment porn is, in my experience, understandably careful about consent. Niki does it for her own intriguing reasons, which she describes eloquently in her writing. She finds danger compelling, and exploring the most extreme scenarios of the human condition through roleplay and acting, in a safe and consensual context, is when she feels most alive.

I can certainly identify with that. I also do it for a straightforward reason which is perhaps easier to understand, which is that I like pain.

Not everybody does. Not everyone who plays with pain likes it in the same way, either. Even I don't always enjoy the pain of a kink experience. Sometimes the point of the scene is that I won't, that I'll be frightened beforehand and, afterwards, proud of my endurance. It takes courage to surrender absolutely, however much you trust your partner. Usually because you can trust them to push you. Because you need them to push you.

I can't explain my kink to you in a single article. I've been writing about it for years and still haven't fully expressed it. Partly this is because it's as hard to make generalisations about kink as to make them about sex. I enjoy certain erotic pain experiences and I find sexual surrender profound and fulfilling, but the nature of my submission differs from partner to partner. With every person I play with, the texture and meaning of the experience is different.

I can't speak for perverts in general, or even for submissives and masochists in general. What I can tell you is that my earliest memories are my four-year-old daydreams of being hurt and helpless, that kink has been a core part of my identity even before I knew what it was. I can tell you that I'm not a victim of violent abuse, and I'm not a rape survivor. My parents are kind and liberal and smart, and I was raised to ask questions and critique the arguments I was presented with; this isn't about re-enacting some traumatic event of my childhood.

I can also tell you that it is absolutely possible to consent to suffering. People consent to suffering all the time. We risk broken bones to go skiing; we get tattooed; we fall in love. We get drunk even though we know the hangover will be horrible.

I'm an independent, self-employed, over-ambitious perfectionist. I work hard and play hard and set myself tough goals. I need the profound emotional release that comes from, just for an evening, having no responsibilities at all. I need the deep, kittenish satisfaction that comes from offering myself to my lover, doing what I'm told and being found pleasing. I need the emotional simplicity that arises from being given very simple goals. Don't move. Trust me. Endure this. Pain grounds me in my body better than any meditation technique I've ever tried. It cleanses my psyche of all the self-inflicted anxiety and guilt that accumulates during my average working week. It leaves me feeling renewed.

Being a professional fetish model is less intimate, but no less intense. When I'm working I strive to create something emotionally powerful and visually beautiful, something I would enjoy watching. I take pride in my performance, and get a kick out of testing my bravery and stamina. The heightened emotions create strong professional bonds, and there's always a lot of laughter on set.

I have a deep and abiding fascination for the more creative expressions of human sexuality. I don't need to be turned on by everything I do on camera: it's all about getting inside the mindset, discovering what it is about this particular act that gets people going, and learning to push those buttons. It's one of the most exciting challenges an actor can face.

Some of us are more adventurous than others. My friend Beverly Bacci is a well-known spanking actress, but she also models for fetishes I'd never even heard of before she told me about them. One of her regular clients is a "horror variety theatre" specialising in murder fetish. Not my cup of tea; I like my pornstars alive and wriggling. I couldn't say whether Beverly enjoys her work in that way, but her professional enthusiasm is infectious. It's an ambitious challenge in acting and make-up, with obvious appeal to those with a taste for the gothic and macabre. She writes candidly about the shoots in her blog; it's perfectly clear that no models were harmed in the making of these videos. Like me, Beverly is an independent agent, and any misguided outside attempts to deny her that agency are infantilising and misogynistic.

On Monday 26th January, the new legislation making it illegal to possess "extreme" porn came into effect. The day before, I stood in Parliament Square clutching a hand-made placard, protesting against a badly-worded and unnecessary curtailment of our civil liberties. Parliament didn't listen, of course, any more than it had listened to nearly three years of protests and discussion since the consultation was released in 2006.

Mark Mackenzie

As adult members of a democracy, we are entrusted with a vote in choosing our countries' leaders. We have a voice, however much it may be drowned out by others. We are granted autonomy over our own bodies, up to a point; we can eat and exercise as much as we please, smoke, drink, and cut ourselves with razors if that's what we want to do, without breaking the law. Every adult in this country has the legal right to conceive and raise children, and fill their heads with whatever ideas as they fancy. That's a hell of a responsibility.

What this government does not trust us with is sexual agency. The extreme porn legislation sends a strong message that UK citizens are not to be trusted with pictures of violent sex. The excitement might go to our little heads, and we might rush out and re-enact them with no thought for the safety of ourselves or others.

This is tremendously insulting. I'm female, so I'm used to legislation and media trying to deny me volition and agency. It happens all the time in films and TV. Now, the government is telling me that I'm not allowed to possess obscene pictures because it doesn't trust me to use them responsibly. What will the government do next? Make it illegal to rape a blow-up doll, wank over a photo of a friend or desecrate a photo of an enemy? Make it illegal to draw violent pictures, or write about extreme fantasies? Make it illegal to talk about them?

Let's think about the argument here, for a second. The one championed so passionately by Liz Longhurst and the Daily Mail, that violent porn causes violent crime. The court case into Jane Longhurst's tragic murder did not demonstrate a causal connection between the extreme porn Graham Coutts liked to look at and his act of homicide; nor has it ever been demonstrated that there is a de facto link between one act (looking at violent imagery) and another (committing violent crimes). The debate on violent videogames has raged for years without conclusion.

Everyone in the country is now affected by this law, despite the fact that the vast majority of us are not violent sexual offenders, and never will be, especially if we're female. This law has nothing to do with violent crime, and everything to do with censorship.

Censorship never works. It never has. Here's a bit of relevant history from Ramsey Campbell's introduction:

In the 50s, horror comics aimed at adults apparently had to be stopped, and so they were in Britain by the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Bill, encouraged by a newspaper outcry under headlines such as 'Now Ban This Filth That Poisons Our Children' and 'Make Bonfires of Them' (the comics, not the children), along with a persistent media claim that a gunman called Alan Poole had been influenced by his own collection of hundreds of horror comics, although in fact he owned just a solitary comic, a Western one eventually described in Parliament as 'not very alarming'.

A media campaign that uses an unexamined scare story or a single unrepresentative crime to whip up hysteria until the government feels forced to bring in extra censorship - it's a recurring turn of events. In the early 80s it was the "video nasty": while the term was coined by a publicist to sell horror fiction, it was hijacked to describe videos the public was supposed to find objectionable. The Daily Mail urged 'Ban the Sadist Videos' and clearly had the ear of Berard Braine, who referred in the House of Lords to 'a grave and growing social evil which no civilised or caring society would tolerate ... a filthy and pernicious trade' (which is to say, making and distributing horror films he didn't like).

How is a fetish movie different from any other TV of film scene attempting to realistically depict a violent event? Do we assume that all actors taking on gritty or gruesome roles must be helpless abductees with no ability to give informed consent? It's not even as if Hollywood is particularly asexual - half of the violent scenes in modern films are intended to be titillating, and to criminalise fetish porn while making an exception for classified films is to set up an explicit and unashamed double standard. The scariest thing about the extreme porn legislation is not that it assumes sexual narratives are automatically immoral, it's that the difference is defined as not being in the intention of the creator, but the mind of the viewer.

Owning a DVD of Kill Bill is fine, but owning an excerpt of the schoolgirl death scene in a folder marked "wank material" gives the police grounds to prosecute - particularly if they've already decided you're a bit dodgy and don't have anything better to pin on you. This legislation creates a thought crime in UK law, and Big Brother is watching YOU masturbate.

I'm familiar with the old excuse that some murder fetish porn and some rape porn depicts real non-consensual acts, and that's the nasty stuff this law is aimed at. Give me a break. Rape and murder are already crimes. It's stupid and dangerous to criminalise fiction just because ignorant prudes can't tell the difference. At best, this law has achieved nothing except fuel prejudice against kink, and at worst it's open to abuse or over-zealous enforcement by the whole judicial system, from street bobbies to high court judges.

The ironic thing is that in some ways kink has become increasingly acceptable. Films like Secretary and shows like Diary of a Call Girl bring fetish into the mainstream. Ever since Max Mosley successfully sued The News of the World, the press has, with some exceptions, tended to be positive. Certainly the industry has been getting increasingly progressive. Feminist porn is coming into its own; an increasing number of kinky sites are woman-led, and the internet has enabled a level of transparency and accountability that makes it very difficult to mistreat a model and get away with it. If the legislators were at all familiar with this industry rather than making uninformed assumptions from the punter's point of view, they'd know all this.

Put bluntly, the government doesn't trust us. Especially if we're doing anything it doesn't understand.

© 2009 Pandora Blake

Pandora Blake blogs about her life and films here.


asquith said...

"I need the profound emotional release that comes from, just for an evening, having no responsibilities at all. I need the deep, kittenish satisfaction that comes from offering myself to my lover, doing what I'm told and being found pleasing. I need the emotional simplicity that arises from being given very simple goals. Don't move. Trust me. Endure this."

At least she does it only in her spare time with consenting partners. Labour voters want that for life from the state, & inflict it on the rest of the population!

Still isn't my cup of tea though. Am far more "conventional". But I don't view it as my place to stop people engaging in this sort of doing with each other...

Wasp_Box said...

"What will the government do next? Make it illegal to rape a blow-up doll"

Didn't some chap get prosecuted for having sex with his bicycle a few months ago?

Thank you for an interesting post.

This is another in a long line of stupid and unnecessary laws that criminalise people who are not criminals (presumeably including me after following your links). As you, rightly, point out we already have laws to deal with non-consensual sexual or violent acts.

I do have one question - the balloon thing - how does that work?

Danny Boy, FCD said...

What is happening in your country? Once a proud bastion of freedom and liberty, it's now becoming a place only for the polite and proper. Is it the political correctness movement? I just don't understand it. The stiff upper lip has been replaced with shriveled balls.

Tin Sel said...

Very brave, well reasoned, great writing - and fills me with despair for the cause of personal freedom.

As long as there are people like you speaking out then all is not lost. Thank you.

Briony said...

I completely respect your right to live your life the way you want. But what does it say about your "fans" that they get their kicks from watching women being hurt and abused? And doesn't it send the messge that women are all "brats" and naughty schoolgirls who enjoy being beaten up?

Graham said...

Briony, I'm one of Pandora's fans. And I'm a feminist. And kinky. And a woman.

Why on earth would a spanking movie — or any movie — send any sort of message about "all" women?

Plus, you don't do justice to the diversity of our fetish. There's sooo much more out there besides brats and schoolgirls. Seriously. Go check it out.

lost causes said...

Unlike most of H's upstanding commentors, this kind of stuff absolutely IS my cup tea, and this article only confirms my belief that kinky people are smarter than nulab prudes, and better able to make decisions about their sex lives.

I doubt anyone will ever be prosecuted under this law. I hope I'm right.


thank you for inviting Pandora Blake to write this guest article. There are very few others that could represent the point of view of the spanking and BDSM communities in such an eloquent and accurate manner.

Briony wrote- "But what does it say about your "fans" that they get their kicks from watching women being hurt and abused? And doesn't it send the message that women are all "brats" and naughty schoolgirls who enjoy being beaten up?"

- To that it can only be said that there are just as many male brats and naughty adult schoolboys, out here in the world, that enjoy being "beaten up" both on an amateur level like myself and whilst modeling for kinky video producers. I find the general argument amongst those that support the recently activated laws that they are some how supporting the feminist cause unsubstantiated. Although the laws themselves to not distinguish between men and women, the general point, that is so often heard from it's supporters, that it is there to protect women can only get the response from male bottoms and subs that the choice to go and get "beaten up" should not only be open to men. This is sexism in its most base and dangerous form, not unlike the attitudes of many in the 19th century that men should have the right to have the opportunity to choose their political leaders whereas women should not. Men should have the right to choose to be "beaten up" in a safe, sane and consensual manner if they wish, on an amateur level or as a professional model. My sisters within the world of spanking and BDSM should have exactly the same right to make that choice.

These unreasonable laws are bad enough in themselves, the openly sexist attitude of many of it's supporters is, frankly, intolerable.


WeepingCross said...

Thank you, Ms Blake. A brave and gentle post.

My only trouble with arguing that the case that people who carry out sexual crimes aren't influenced by the pornographic material they consume is unproven is that I can't see how you could ever prove it. I observe, broadly speaking, a connection between the things I think and the way I act; but I benefit from a nice, stable upbringing and highly-developed systems of internal moral sanction, like a lot of fortunate people. Not everyone's like that. What the State should do about it is another matter, of course.

Pandora said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. It's an honour to be able to write something here, and I really appreciate you taking the time to read and reply.

Asquith - Is representative democracy consensual? Gorden Brown's leadership arguably isn't...

And I wish everyone who disagreed with me took your approach to it.

Wasp_box - Hey, thanks for your reply :)

I think the bicycle incident was a public nuisance/indecency thing rather than anything else? I could be wrong though.

No idea about the balloon thing. I think it's an extension of latex fetish, but there's certainly more to it than that. I think the list in the entry I linked is are quite revealing, as they show what the client is looking for and what the trigger points are.

Briony - Your first sentence is immediately contradicted about your next question. My "fans" include men and women, subs and doms. I'm a "fan" of kinky porn myself. I was looking at pictures of men and women (mostly women) being hurt and abused for years before I started working in the industry. Are you saying it's okay for me to look at porn, but not for men? Or are you saying it's okay for me to act in porn, but not to look at it?

Misogyny is sometimes defined as the view that women do not have individual personalities; that any general statement about women applies to all women. People who think like this are going to think like this whether or not they look at porn, and all we can really do is wait for them to die and make sure our sons are better brought up. And people who don't think like this are going to look at kinky porn exactly the same way I do - as a fantasy.

I've fantasised about being hurt and abused, or watching others being hurt and abused, for most of my life. This doesn't mean I want to be assaulted or raped. Quite the contrary - I'm much more aware of the risks than some of the women I know, and much more inclined to respond with anger to any perceived threat to my person. Nor does it mean I would wish harm on any other person. Fantasy and reality. They're two very different things.

I absolutely believe that kinky porn, whether the submissive figure is male or female, is best when accompanied by informed debate. I'm much more interested in a video of someone being hurt and abused if I know a bit about the model, know that they enjoy what they do, know a bit about their reasons for doing it. I find it hard to enjoy porn where the consent of the models isn't explicit - I'm much more interested if the models have a voice and I can hear in their own words that they got off on making it just asuch as I get off on watching it. So I can sort of see where you're coming from. But I wouldn't ever presume to insist that everyone watching porn subscribe to the same ideals. It's a question of personal taste.

I think that modern advertising, music videos and vanilla porn send a much more misogynistic than any kinky porn, which is, as I've said in my entry, much more focussed on female desire. I'd like to see more female-gaze spanking porn (and intend to produce my own) but there's already a fair amount out there.

And don't forget that an awful lot of kinky porn is male hurting male, or female hurting male. Do you have a problem with the "message" that sends?

If you're getting a "message" about all women from the kind of porn I'm talking about, I think this says much more about you than it does about the porn.

Indy said...

This is an extremely well done piece-- thanks to Pandora for writing it and to H for choosing so well.

As a feminist woman who only came to terms with her own kinkiness in her 40's, I have some sympathy for Briony's views. After all, mine weren't very different a few years ago, and they were probably the primary reason that I hadn't explored an essential part of my own sexuality. Happily, greater exposure to the kinky community has made it clear to me that they were also almost completely wrong.

Prefectdt is of course right that society tends to focus on BDSM in the context of male-dominant female-submissive activity. That's probably a reflection of our society's uneasiness with relatively new roles for men and for women, and with women's concerns (often realistic, in my view) that relinquishing hard-won control in any form can be a slippery slope.

So I too wondered about men—not women, just men-- who watch kinky videos. I didn’t even consider at first that many of them enjoyed imagining themselves as the "victim," just as I do when I watch a spanking clip. I soon learned the error of that assumption, but I still remained a bit suspicious of male tops. And then, I began meeting kinky people and realized they were just like the everybody else.

The vast majority of men and women I’ve met in the scene treat one another with kindness and respect and look out for the interests of newcomers. Submission or dominance in one’s sexual life seem to have little correlation with the extent of control or responsibility we take in other parts of our lives. Most of the men I’ve met who enjoy dominating women in a kinky context are fundamentally extremely respectful of women- and not in the paternalistic way of the creators of this law. They are also giddily pleased that they can bring us pleasure as they act out their own fantasies (or ours) in a safe, sane and consensual manner.

Sure, there are kinky men who are insecure and selfish and who use kink as a way to try to keep women in a less powerful position, but I doubt that’s because they’re kinky. There are also plenty of vanilla men who do the same, as most of us see in one way or another in our daily lives. In short, there are petty tyrants in every group in society.

There may actually be more predators in the BDSM and spanking scenes than in society as a whole, drawn in much the same way as pedophiles are drawn to children’s and youth groups. Of course, the vast majority of adults who work with children are decent, dedicated people. The same is true in the kinky world. No one suggests that we should disband the Boy Scouts or youth groups because there are pedophiles in the world: we are simply more cautious about screening those who work with youth. Most of us gladly endure such screening because we also value the safety of young people. It works the same way in spanking and BDSM groups, and, as far as I can tell in, in the spanking pornography industry itself. Thus, as Pandora points out, laws forbidding the ownership or making of films made in a safe and consensual manner are absolutely unnecessary.

In addition to my fundamental concerns about censorship in a viable democratic society, I worry that this law will drive the kinky community further underground. Having an internet forum in which to discuss desires I had for so long thought that no one else shared was an essential part of becoming more fully myself, even more fully alive. Society shouldn’t underestimate the human cost of denying kinky people the ability to talk to one another, to meet one another and the express our humanity in a shared community. After all, we’re a distinct minority in society, and it takes networking with an explicitly kinky focus to meet one another and to learn about exploring our desires safely. To drive what are after all basic sexual needs underground seems more likely to cause an explosion than to prevent one.

Michael said...

Since people are asking what kind of person watches this, I'd like to speak up.

I get my kicks from damsels in distress it's true. When presented with a woman in pain I get a strong urge first to protect her, then to soothe her, then to progress to making her happy, most likely... ahem... through physical means.

Logic says it's how nature protects wounded and vulnerable people, by making them more attractive to potential mates who will protect them.

Certainly it takes some amount of suspension of disbelief to actually turn it into a sex game, but so does any kind of recreational sex. You're either trying for a baby or you're suspending disbelief.

Anonymous said...

I agree thats its a crazy law, But it only affects extreme violence in porn,
Sex does not make crime ok
assaulting someone is a crime whether yo consent it or not,
animals cannot consent sex so its criminal,
violence or intent of self harm is criminal, to provoke a potential harmful or violent situation is caution able by law enforcement,
the fact is you can still do your stuff but do not expect that broadcasting it is ok,

I LOVE porn, but you have to see reasoning within the law, it isnt a fierce as they mae it out to be, spankings fine, wankings fine. animes fine, it affects the extremitys

emarkienna said...

I love this article. I always get a bit depressed when I hear "Oh don't worry, it won't affect you" or "Why should I care, it doesn't affect me" (especially when the sentiment is often "Why should *you* care") - the point is that even if I happen to not have or view images that risk being illegal under the law, the law still spreads prejudice against kink as you say, and sends a message that certain consensual acts, even if entirely role-played, are "abhorrent", and comparable to real abusive acts.

There are those who support the law whilst claiming not to have anything against BDSM, but this tends to be only as far as the mildest of acts are concerned (as suggested by the Anonymous comment); "I'm okay with this - but that's just going too far".

What will be next? Since the Government is passing a law criminalising drawings of sexual images of under-18s (yes, 18, not 16; which will also catch drawings of adults if the predominant impression is of an under-18), and the Government equates the "extreme porn" law to the law on fictional child porn, a future law on "violent drawings" does not seem inconceivable.

I'm not aware of any push for written material - however, anyone who publishes or distributes written fantasy material should be wary of the Girls Aloud case. If successful, it will set the precedent that written material can be illegal under the Obscene Publications Act, as well as being the first case of material published on the Internet.

The way the laws are going, I can see it remaining legal to rape a blow-up doll or wank over a photo - but I can imagine it being illegal to draw a picture of someone raping a blow-up doll, or possess a picture of a friend "for the purpose of getting aroused by it"... The laws criminalise images but not the acts themselves; and judge people based on apparent motives, not actual motives, which makes them all the more insane.

@Briony - It says that her fans enjoy acts between consenting adults?

If we're worried about sending a message, shouldn't we be worried about much more prevalent mainstream porn, as opposed to alternative interests? Not only is the former far more widespread, but alternative fetish and SM pornography is far more likely to feature men in submissive roles and women in dominant ones, or to have same sex scenes, unlike mainstream porn. The message is that people are in a role because they choose it, and not because of their gender.

@Anonymous: "it affects the extremitys" - No, it affects entirely staged and fictional material - including for example, an extract from a legal film. I think you misunderstand the law, it's not about stopping illegal or abusive acts, it applies to consenting adults, even if it's all pretend. Are you suggesting that crime dramas on TV should be illegal, because crime itself is illegal? Of course not. This law does not criminalise based on what actually happened, it criminalises based on what the image appears to show - even if it can be proven otherwise. (Did you read Pandora's excellent and informative article here? She explains this quite clearly.)

Consenting adults role-playing with a knife are intended to come under the law, if one of them pretends to threaten the other, in an image.

So spanking's fine - but anything beyond that, who knows. Between "mild spanking with a feather duster" and "the most extreme acts conceivable", there's a whole range of BDSM acts that consenting adults do, and view. The fact that we are supposed to be happy that only the mildest of S&M acts are legal in an image (even if staged) shows how restrictive this law has become. Note also that the law has been broadened since it was originally proposed, so please don't be misled by anything you read at earlier stages.